I don’t wanna come off as some kinda necrophiliac, but let me start by saying this; Emmylou Harris is smoking. She’s always been a gorgeous woman, and I don’t know if she’s ever had any work done, but even so, time has been very good to her (whereas Neil’s back-up singers teeter on the “creepy” side unfortunately). Emmylou falls in that category alongside Michelle Phillips (The Mamas and the Papas) and Deborah Harry (Blondie) of good-looking women old enough to be my grandmother’s bridge partner. Oh, if only I were rich, famous, and 40 years older. Honestly, Emmylou is the most attractive thing to look at in Heart of Gold, the doc-concert about Canada’s own Neil Young, chronicling his first show that kicked of his Prairie Wind 2005 Tour at the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music that used to host the world-famous Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, Tennessee.
The film was directed by Jonathan Demme, but honestly, who even cares? A blind hydrocephalic monkey with carpal tunnel syndrome could have done as good a job as Demme, if not better. I’m not sure if he was trying to go all Scorsese on the genre, but if so, he failed miserably. Let me clarify; this is by no means a boring concert, au contraire, this is a good time for all, especially if you’re a fan of Neil Young, but it doesn’t merit a theatrical showing; it’s a PBS special at best (thanks to the support of viewers like you).
Unfortunately, you can’t help but compare it to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz which delighted fans with The Band’s final performance from way back in 1976, accompanied by such luminaries including Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and hey! Neil Young and Emmylou Harris! It’s not really fair to compare the two because Heart of Gold isn’t anything more than a concert for Neil’s latest studio recording, it’s not nearly as dramatic as a farewell tour (even though he was hospitalized to remove a brain aneurysm just a few month before the show. Dodged that bullet. And fortunately, Neil didn’t seem as coked-up as he did 30 years ago). The few minutes of interviews the audience is treated to at the very beginning are useless at best. They offer little information but they do remind us of why Rob Reiner used real actors for those little married couples segments in When Harry Met Sally; because old people don’t know how to tell a story! They go all Grandpa Simpson on you by flying off on tangents that lead less than nowhere until you decide to leave the room to get a cool, tall, refreshing glass of milk, and come back only to find that they’re STILL TALKING!!! TO A SOCK PUPPET!!!
The first half introduces us to Neil’s new songs from Prairie Wind, which are, simply put, fantastic. Very reminiscent of his most acclaimed songs, these new melodies transport you back to northern farmlands circa 1950. The second half shows us that Neil can still belt out his old favorites like no other. I can honestly say his live rendition of Harvest Moon blows everything else out of the water; just close your eyes, sit back, and feel it take you over like a warm autumn wind. One thing that struck me like a sack o’ bricks in the first few moments of the concert as Neil was up onstage with his little country hat and vest outfit was how much he reminded me of Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. If Jeff never forgets his alt-country roots, this could very well be him in 30 years.